Episode 089: Dieting vs Food As Medicine

Episode 089: Dieting vs Food As Medicine

What’s the difference between dieting and viewing food as medicine? In this new episode of The Live FAB Life Podcast, we’ll explore:

  • What my dieting mentality was like

  • What exactly does food as medicine mean?

  • Two ways that I manage the slippery slope between living healthily and orthorexia


Click Here to Read the Episode Transcript...

Welcome back to The Live FAB Life Podcast. I’m your host, Naomi Nakamura.

And this week’s episode is a solo show that’s a follow-up last week’s episode with Kate Markkovitz on Overcoming Orthorexia. If you haven’t listened to it yet, then go back and listen to Episode 088.

There’s something from that episode that Kate and I discussed that I’d like to spend a little more time discussing today and that’s the difference between dieting and using and viewing food for healing, or to put it plainly - using food as medicine.

To cut to the chase, the difference between these two things boils down to your mindset and intention.

I’ve shared this before, but for a long, long time, in fact most of my adult life, my definition of diet was all about burning more calories than I took in.

I read all the magazines - Fitness magazine, Self, Shape - I used all of their BMI and other calculators to figure out what my “ideal” weight should be. I used online programs like Calorie King and MyFitnessPal to determine what my daily caloric limits should be and then planned my entire life around staying within those parameters.

And I’m really not embellishing this at all.

You see, my entire day - if I worked from home or went into the office, what my social plans were, what errands I’d run - they were all planned around what workouts I did each day and whether or not I’d need to do more than one, some days even up to three in order to burn the appropriate amount of calories to stay within my so-called appropriate daily range.

And when I wasn’t able to maintain this, I’d get angry and frustrated. When my clothes felt tight or the number on the scale was higher than it was “supposed” to be, my first thought would be, “I need to eat less than the 1300 net calories I was basically starving myself with” and to figure out how I’d fit more workouts into the week.

There was no thought into considering other factors that I now know to be true like: Does the food I’m eating have enough nutrients to meet my body’s needs? Am I eating foods with quality ingredients free of pesticides, herbicides, etc? Am I eating anything that might cause inflammation in my body?

These are all things that I think about now when it comes to how I eat, but I have to be honest and admit that sometimes my first gut reaction does fall back to this old way of thinking, this diet mentality because it’s something that’s so ingrained in our culture, and was so ingrained in my mind for the first 40 years of my 38-40 years of my life. And despite even knowing what I know now and the perspectives that I now carry, it’s going to take a lot longer than four to six years to stop this way of thinking.

But I don’t want to diminish what I have learned over the past four years and all of the hard work and effort that I have put into shifting my mindset to look at food as medicine, and another factor towards healing.

Maybe it’s because of the community that I’m in, but the phrase “Food As Medicine” has kinda felt a bit like its become a cliche. Has it? I dunno.

But to someone who’s maybe never heard it of this term before, or at least doesn’t hear or think about it often, what exactly does it mean?

To me, it means recognizing that the food that we eat has a direct - and I truly mean a direct impact on how we feel - our well-being and ultimately, our health. It’s not just about how many calories it has and how it will impact the number on the scale.

Well all know that if we eat a food that we’re allergic to, our body responds in a negative way, some more severely than others. I’m thinking of about allergies to things like peanuts or shellfish. If someone is allergic to these foods, their immune system will have an immediate response and they have to be rushed to the hospital because their health (and really, their life) can potentially be in jeopardy.

Yet there are so many other foods that our bodies are not necessarily allergic to, but rather sensitive or intolerant of, that when we eat them, also causes a response from our immune systems - not the same kind of response as an allergic reaction, but an immune response nonetheless, yet we ignore and minimize the kinds of impact it may cause.

Foods like dairy, gluten, nightshades, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils - all foods that can inflame our bodies in a different, slowly, more subtle way, yet we don’t see them as “poison.”

Nor do we see how eating foods that replenish, restore and nourish our bodies can heal what’s broken inside.

But really, that’s what food as medicine is - using foods to heal us which is a vastly different approach to “being healthy” than the mentality of “dieting.”

I have a friend who’s battling a chronic illness and is very new to this holistic and wellness world that I live. And she’s has to take a lot of different medications to manage her symptoms. Now I’m not anti-medications, I just think it’s not the end all be all that most of the allopathic medical world uses it as because it doesn’t always address the root cause of what’s causing the illness.

I prefer an integrative approach to use medications to manage symptoms while simultaneously taking a functional and holistic approach to address the larger picture. I believe it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Back to my friend, she’s taking a bunch of medications that she needs just to make it through the day. Just to be able to get up in the morning, maintain her job to support herself and her family, but the medications that she’s on comes with side effects - as many medications do.

And one of those side effects is weight gain. She knows this. Yet, because as a culture, we’ve been so ingrained with the “calories in, calories out” mentality, she’s taken to starving herself to an alarming minimal amount of calories per day as a way to control her weight.

I don’t know about you, but being hungry makes me angry, and starving myself downright makes me hangry = hungry + angry. It’s miserable. I know, I’ve been there and I hate it.

And in this situation - this diet mentality is doing more harm to her body and actually working against what the medications are trying to do. By starving herself and depriving herself of food, she’s basically starving her body of the vitamins and minerals that needs from food, it’s depleting her energy because food also gives us fuel to function and impacting her mood, her mental health and I would imagine how pleasant she is to be around because she’s hangry all the time.

So while she might be trying to “focus on her health” and working on “being healthy again” this dieting mindset really has nothing to do with that and is probably putting her body under more stress from lack of sustenance and with stress comes inflammation which then causes disruption in how the body functions.

Okay I realized I might have totally lost you with this explanation, but I really hope I didn’t and that I was able to communicate my thoughts on this in an understandable way.

It’s funny, one of my reviews on iTunes said that they like my content but they can tell I read a script for my solo shows, which I totally do. I’ve never tried to hide that and I do that because:

I so easily go off on tangents, kinda like how I’m doing right now, that if I didn’t loosely script out my solo shows, I really have no idea what they end result might be. And having listened to other podcast hosts do that, I don’t enjoy listening to it so I’m trying to spare you from it too. Oh I also script out solo shows because I include transcripts of all episodes on the show notes and it’s quite an expense to have them translated. I’ve chosen to keep this show sponsor-free, at least for now, so having solo shows already scripted saves me the cost of having to have them transcribed.

Okay, end tangent.

I do have one final thought that I want to show on this topic. I had a comment over on my Instagram about last week’s episode that was so spot on that I want to share my thoughts on it and the comment went like this:

“This is so important for many of us in the wellness space to hear! Orthorexia is huge in this community and something I’ve struggled with too!” And that was from my friend Suzy, who’s a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.

I 100% agree with Suzy on this and like I’ll continue to share, it is something that I struggle with too.

In Episode 087, the one where I shared my SIBO story, I talked about how I followed the Low FODMAPS diet for a full year when in fact, it’s really only recommended to follow for a few weeks - a few months at the most.

And yet I followed it for a full year. Yes it was with the intention of trying to heal by body from SIBO and the poor gut health it was battling, but it got to the point where it was detrimental, robbing me of nutrients from foods like garlic and onions that my body relied on to function in other areas.

In fact, I had mentioned that after eating the meal where I finally ate garlic and onions after not having it for a full year, I felt a visceral boost of energy that I had not felt in a really, really long time.

I also imagine someone who’s strictly follows a diet like the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) can fall into this category too.

So how do you manage this slippery slope - whether you’re a practitioner or not?

I think there’s two things that can help:

Knowing what your non-negotiables are - those things that will absolutely wreak havoc on your body and to be quite honest, don’t provide nutritional value. Of course, I’m thinking of things like gluten, soy and corn - which are the two most genetically modified foods around and processed sugar. And how do you learn what your non-negotiables are?

Well that’s where I think limited-time programs like the 21-Day Sugar Detox and using tools like a Food Mood Poop journal help.

A program like the 21-Day Sugar Detox, which I am a certified coach for, gives you a framework and teaches you how to pick up on the nuanced messages that your body sends you that may not have otherwise picked up on.

I’ve shared a number of times but I think a program like the 21DSD is such an ideal place for someone who’s not only looking to “get healthy” but also looking to heal their bodies because of the effect that the program has on ones mindset.

Because if you’re like me, and you tend to have an obsessive or addictive personality, trying to do something with an “all or nothing” approach may not be the best approach for you here. It can encourage you to cling to dogma where everything is “black and white” with no allowances or grace or anything in between.

Now only are there three levels to choose from, depending on where you’re at, if you happen to slip up during the 21 days, you learn from it and pick up where you left off. I don’t and I know my colleagues of other coaches don’t admonish that kind of punishing mindset. Nor is it the intention or spirit of the program.

I think when you do anything like this, the biggest experience is the learning and self-awareness into your own mindset, intentions and habits that you walk away with.

  1. My other thought on avoiding the slippery slope of a “diet mentality” and orthorexia is to remember that the current state that your body is in, isn’t one that has to be forever.

I’ve had this question asked quite a bit on my Instagram DM’s that people tend to be surprised when I tell them that just because they have a food intolerance or sensitivity now, doesn’t mean it has to be forever.

Because when you ditch the “diet” mentality and really, truly, practice a “food as medicine” for healing approach, you can heal your gut health so that your body can one day accept the foods that you may not be able to right now. Because remember - intolerance and sensitivity is a very different immune response from an allergy. Don’t get me wrong - they are very real reactions - I really hate when someone minimizes that a food sensitivity or intolerance is “okay” because its not an allergy. There is still a physical response which causes distress too.

For me, it was nightshades. For the longest time I avoided nightshades because I really couldn’t eat them without it upsetting my stomach. But after years of focusing on restoring my gut health, I came to a place where it wasn’t all nightshades, but it was just tomatoes.

And now I’m at a place where I can tolerate tomatoes, just not every day.

So when you focus on restoring and supporting your gut health, through food, supplements and perhaps medication too, you can perhaps get it to a place where one day you can eat the foods that perhaps you weren’t able tolerate before.

This is the approach that I’m doing my best to take when I feel like I’m trying to balance that slippery slope.

It all goes back to your mindset and intention.

I’m not sure I’ve effectively communicated my deeper thoughts on this, but at the very least, I hope I’ve pointed out a different way of thinking beyond “diets.”

As always, you can check out the show notes for this episode over on my website at www.livefablife.com/089. That’s all that I have for you this week and I’ll see you right back here for the next episode!


Naomi Nakamura is a Functional Nutrition Health Coach. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, programs, coaching services and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop!
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